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Whilst older films or pieces of music generally feel their age on account of their then nascent methods of capture, paintings can often come across as strikingly modern inspite of the century or more that separates the image from the viewing present. Art, it seems, tends to transcend and connect through its unfiltered access to expression. Today’s artist Christopher R.W Nevinson struck me precisely because of his urgency and evident endurance, his work forceful and delicate in its depiction of horrors both real & imagined.
‘Column on the March’ – 1917
What first hits here is the immense sense of monotony, everything is patterned up and divided like a map as territory. From the uniform sky streaked across in various gasps of light, to the floor which is separated to uncertain gravel patterns, along with the aggressive clanking column of the soldiers themselves.
Occasionally a private’s gun will break off from the perpendicular of the pattern, but mostly it’s the clever use of the horses that allows the column to achieve a sense of depth and motion. The animals, with one noticeable towards the far left of the canvas and another squintable just at its close, act as markers that suggest distance, with the space between the riders growing shorter as the perspective drains out into the further side . Through doing this, Nevinson implies more horses on the line, indeed logically there would be one just off the right side of the painting as it cuts, a feeling that furthers the horror of the image as we are caught between a mere slice of this dominant irresistible march, rather than its end.
Though the image seems to suggest against it, it’s interesting to take the actual fighters as individuals. Under examination they break into basic shapes of confusing yet recognisable contortions. Cartoonish but nevertheless real, their odd futurist depiction ensures our eyes are stapled to their path just as they are.
Nevinson of course though is drawing our thoughts towards the monomaniacal nature of war, something that churns the individual to patriotic paste. A thought suggested by the breakdown of detail as the painting drives further towards its endless conclusion. Near our right hand side then is an interesting display of cobblestone design, with even the occasional face able to be discerned. Towards the end however, there’s nothing more than few brushstrokes posing as road as the men peel out into statistics.
‘Dance Hall Scene’ – 1913
An odd perplexing marvel of a painting that fuses elements of Fauvism with Cubism, ‘Dance Hall Scene’ finds a wide range of humanity mingling as freely as Nevinson’s palette. From the familiar dancing partners at its middle, to the odd lion and menacing jester at its corner, instability reigns here as the party fragments and jitters. There’s a dance floor visible, as well as flowers too, but Nevinson does away easily with perspective and manner, pushing for a more accurate realisation of the blur these scenes do often become.
Soft edges of faces continually push out of the canvas against the scene. Some hang unfinished and incomplete, staring out isolated from within, others gaze on in bemusement. I especially love the visage just above the heavy browed figure of the corner, one in which the mouth comes where the nose should be, as well as a cocked leg able if effectively forming a brow. Whereas pure Cubism strives to present a circular whole of an image, as if it were traversed and appreciated throughout, here there seems to be have been more of an explosion than an exposition, as limbs and faces codify to a uproarious mania.
The carnival tones are expertly presented, with an almost hallucinatory imaging on the bottom figures as their faces and lapels become blending to intriguing combinations. Some are fully formed beings here, their entire shape on display to scrutinise, others such as the crowd at the top are shown only as faces akin to a flickering candle flame.
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